As I walked into the Sloan Convention Center, I nearly bumped into a walking, talking dog. Shortly thereafter, I passed by a man wearing a gourd on his back, and then another, only to be greeted by some snickering space pirates. These would be certainly strange occurrences anywhere else. However, at an Anime convention, or “con” as it’s called in the anime community, this is not just typical, but standard. Until this weekend, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, cons were foreign territory for most, at least until Daigacon was formed.
Daigacon is the fruition of what con director Mark Henry calls an “accident.”
“Originally we just got together and said ‘hey, why don’t we have our own convention,’” said Henry, who is a part of Rising Sun Otaku, Western’s anime club.”[R.S.O. initially] figured it’d be infeasible. I said ‘well it’s not infeasible to have a convention.’ I then listed all the things that go into it, all that goes into the background work, and suddenly I found myself in charge of making a convention.”
However, Daigacon had been an idea long before it became a reality.
“Nothing happened for two years after that, and then suddenly we decided, ‘oh yeah, let’s have the convention,’ so for the last roughly three months we put together a convention,” Henry said.
Three months of planning had morphed into three days of convention (March 2-4, 2007), which I was ready to explore.
While at Daigacon, I saw anime and Japanese culture discussed, debated, and celebrated in a variety of forms. From people cosplaying, where fans dress up in the costume of their favorite anime/sci-fi/etc. character, to panels on all aspects of Anime. I saw all I thought possible and more.
Kat Ruff, head of Artist Alley and all things ‘fan art’ shed some light on the various activities that were occurring.
“[Watching Anime] is the basis of the whole culture itself, but that’s not all we do,” Ruff said. “[For example,] a lot of fans will make music videos. They’ll take just a random anime series, sometimes several, find a song and then make a music video to that song that they feel somehow describes the series. We have contests for that.”
Artists Alley, she said, on the other hand “is a way for people who love to draw to go, ‘Well, I’m going to take this talent and I’m going to make a few extra bucks with it.'”
This synergy of commerce and pleasure shows in the dealers room as well, where various Anime stores, and similarly related businesses share their wares with Anime fans (also known as Otaku), to find products that most interest them.
Artist Alley and the Dealer’s room, while popular, are not what many fans, especially first-timers remember most clearly. Often they are most struck, or shocked sometimes, by the cosplaying, particularly if they catch a glimpse of those few who participate in ‘cross-gender cosplaying’.
Ruff said “it’s humorous to see a guy in a gigantic bunny maid costume. If you just push aside the fact that he’s dressed up in this and look at the elements it’s pretty funny. Not many men would have the guts to put on a gigantic bunny maid outfit.”
While that’s very true, many different stereotypes have been made regarding anime fans and anime in general, due to cosplaying and of course the actual anime shows/movies. Ruff has this recommendation for those who still ‘don’t get Anime’.
“Look at [Anime] as you would any other work of art, because that’s what it is, it’s art,” Ruff said. “Films are art, just as much as paintings on a wall are. This is another form of expression; this is another way of telling a story. Just because it’s not Bugs Bunny, just because it’s not Mickey Mouse doesn’t mean it’s still not fun to watch. It’s still cool to sit there and analyze, because it’s not like any of the cartoons here.”
Indeed, I did have an enjoyable time: in panels (such as Kat’s ‘Women in Anime’ panel), playing guitar hero or a variety of other games, and interacting with the many guests.
A particular treasure for Daigacon was the involvement of Japanese guests Yasuhiro Koshi, Yoko Ishida, and Yunamo Ayakawa. Mark says about Yoko Ishida, Japanese songstress who performed two concerts at Daigacon, that “there’s ten-year cons that can’t get her. I don’t know how I got her.”
From closer to home though, Daigacon had guests in the Anime industry, such as Brittney Karbowski, voice actress, Chris Ayres, voice actor and director, and Jan Scott-Frazier, artist, director, and producer among other things. In addition, anime and gaming musicians the Spoony Bards and the Random Battle Group kept the atmosphere flowing, whether it be with tunes from various anime, or fight simulations from various games, such as Final Fantasy.
Ultimately I learned that aside from the multitude of activities, ‘cons’ seem to be about connections forged by a similar love, and that Daigacon and other Anime conventions offer, perhaps most importantly, is as Kat believes a place for Otaku to be themselves.
“All the people you see here have been hurt in one way by the world telling them ‘oh, you’re a nerd’ or ‘you’re a loser’ or ‘you’re a geek’ and why are you doing this?,” Ruff said. “Why don’t you just act like everybody else? And these [fans] are people who said ‘no I’m not going to act like everybody else. I’m going to enjoy this thing that I enjoy and be happy with it’, and then they discover with the cons, ‘wait I can be around other people that are like me. I’m not the only person out there in the world who likes this’, and they can be here and they will not be ridiculed. They can go here [to cons] and the outside world will not interfere. They can dress in wild costumes and… for three days be anybody they want to be, be it their hero, be it just someone they admire, and I think that is the very appeal of it.”
[Originally published in Full Effect Magazine (2006)]